The Preacher and Teacher: The Man, Not Mechanics and Methods

I look forward to reading Sinclair Ferguson’s Pastors and Teachers. I have long admired Dr. Ferguson’s brevity, clarity, and depth in writing and preaching. After hearing the podcast I am especially anticipating drinking from the fountain of his insights forged over many years of faithful devotion to our Lord.

Since Dr. Ferguson heartily recommends our reading B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) and since I had the privilege to learn through David Calhoun about the Old Princetonians and Warfield, and then write on Warfield under another of God’s grand servants, Dr. John Woodbridge, I feel it rather my duty to write this. Furthermore, in God’s providence this also happens to coincide with a class I have been teaching this fall on “Old Princeton and Christian Ministry” at Erskine seminary. As a pastor and as a teacher one feels compelled under the weight of merciful and gracious privileges that have altered one’s life for the good, even as one feels acutely the weight of that need for mercy and grace.

One of the constant themes we discover in the pens and on the lips of faithful servants of our Lord Jesus throughout the ages is how their sense of utter inadequacy for their task drove them to dependence on the Lord. Such dependency drives the servant out of himself; it leads to diligent searching of the Scriptures and prayer. By relying upon God’s “means of grace” God’s servant is changed—sanctified—purified of sin. From beginning to end we should be profoundly aware that the matter before us is not about pastoring and teaching per se, it’s about pastors and teachers. The man, not mechanics and methods, is the issue. The man called into service by Jesus through his Holy Spirit changed to be like Jesus. So what we find constantly throughout the writings on pastoral ministry by the Old Princetonians is an emphasis on the need for “vital piety.” I heartily recommend James M. Garretson’s two volume work Princeton and the Work of Christian Ministry (Banner of Truth).

Peter’s words summarize our quest and need: “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2Peter 3:18). That term “vital piety” captures the point that life and holiness are joined. They are joined together in God; we don’t join them. The emphasis on growth stresses life, that eternal life that God graciously and mercifully gives to his covenant people by the Lord of the covenant laying down his life in his incarnation and then death on the cross, culminating in his powerfully glorious resurrection from the dead and his ascension to the right hand of the Father. There, at the right hand of the Majesty on High, Jesus intercedes for his covenant bride and continuously dispenses all things pertaining to salvation through his and the Father’s Spirit. We are acted upon. We receive. We receive life, not merely in a moment, but continuously. We are continuously dependent.

In the technologically, mechanically, method-driven world that exalts human ability to measure, manufacture and manage all reality we are in constant danger of bowing to this god; of subtly substituting principles for pastoring and teaching for the personal and progressive change Jesus applies to pastors and teachers. We don’t need a method to employ; we need the God-Man to change us. Like our ancestors Adam and Eve we want to take and harness; we don’t want to receive and be harnessed.

Warfield wrote, “Do we wish to grow in grace? It is the knowledge of God’s truth that sanctifies the heart. Do we desire a key to the depths of God’s truth? It is the Spirit-led man who discerns all things. Are our souls in travail for the dying thousands about us? How eager, then, will be our search in the fountain of life for the waters of healing? Is the way weary? Do we not know whence alone can be derived our strength for the journey of life? There is no way so surely to stimulate the appetite for knowledge as to quicken the sense of the need of it in the wants of our own spiritual life on in the calls of practical work for others.” (“The Spiritual Culture in the Theological Seminary” delivered Sabbath afternoon, Sept. 20, 1903. Cf. Garretson, Princeton and the Work of Christian Ministry 2:429-30)

The apostle Paul, near the end of his life, felt the piercing profundity of his personal inadequacy and failure. He recognized through God’s mercy and grace applied to him that he had been made faithful, even as the chief of sinners. He was an example, alright—an example of Jesus’ perfect patience for those who would believe in Jesus for eternal life (1Tim. 1:12-16).

Dr. Ferguson used the illustration that Jesus’ pastors and teachers in their preaching and teaching God’s word participate with the Holy Spirit’s spiritual surgery of sanctification given to God’s people. This surgery is indeed first applied to us, who would be used of the Chief Surgeon. Only then can it truly be said that we with vital piety are his pastors and teachers. 

David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield's Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.   



David Smith